US Sanctions Cuba For Repressing Protests, Biden Warns More To Come

In this file photo a man is arrested during a demonstration against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

The United States imposed sanctions on Cuba’s defense minister and a special forces unit Thursday for repressing peaceful protests, a step President Joe Biden warned is “just the beginning” of punitive measures against Havana.

The US Treasury Department said its Office of Foreign Assets Control froze the assets of minister Alvaro Lopez Miera and the Special National Brigade (SNB), a division of Cuba’s interior ministry, in relation to human rights abuses committed during a crackdown on protests on the island earlier in July.

“This is just the beginning — the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” Biden said in a statement.

The sanctions were imposed under the Magnitsky act, which allows a US president to take action against human rights abuses and corruption.

People in Caracas demonstrate in support of the Cuban government and their supporters, outside the Cuban embassy in the Venezuelan capital on July 12, 2021.  Federico PARRA / AFP

 

Biden said his administration targeted Lopez Miera and the SNB — a special forces unit nicknamed the Black Berets — because they were “driving the crackdown” against protesters who took to the streets by the thousands in rare public demonstrations against the communist government.

“As we hold the Cuban regime accountable, our support for the Cuban people is unwavering,” Biden said.

The president also condemned what he called “the mass detentions and sham trials” used to imprison and silence outspoken Cubans.

Cuba pushed back swiftly, calling the sanctions “slanderous” and saying the United States should focus more on repression and police brutality on its own soil.

“I reject unfounded and slanderous sanctions by the US government” against the Cubans targeted, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

The sanctions freeze all Lopez Miera and SNB assets and interests in the United States, as well as prohibit any US citizen, resident or entity from engaging with them financially.

“Treasury will continue to enforce its Cuba-related sanctions, including those imposed today, to support the people of Cuba in their quest for democracy and relief from the Cuban regime,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said.

Biden, for his part, said Washington was considering multiple new steps.

The United States is working closely with regional partners like the Organization of American States “to pressure the regime to immediately release wrongfully detained political prisoners, restore internet access and allow the Cuban people to enjoy their fundamental rights,” he said.

Washington is also reassessing its policy guiding remittances to Cuba, with the State Department expressing concern that such funds could “find their way into Cuban government coffers,” according to spokesman Ned Price.

Washington will “continue to review what more we can do” to support the Cuban people while holding the nation’s authorities to account, Price said.

READ ALSO: Half Of Europeans Vaccinated As Germany Warns On Rising COVID-19 Cases

 ‘Weak response’ 

Demonstrators hold placards during a rally held in solidarity with anti-government protests in Cuba, in Times Square, New York on July 13, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

On July 11 and 12, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in 40 cities shouting “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship,” and “We’re hungry.”

One person has died and more than 100 have been arrested since the protests broke out over the worst economic crisis in decades.

According to the Treasury Department, Cuba’s defense ministry and security services attacked people and “arrested or disappeared over 100 protesters in an attempt to suppress these protests.”

The demonstrations have further strained an already tense relationship between Washington and Havana.

Cuba has seen a whiplash in US policy in recent years, with former president Barack Obama normalizing relations at the end of his term, declaring that a half-century of efforts to topple the regime had failed, and then his successor Donald Trump reimposing sweeping economic pressure.

Biden as president had exhibited a go-slow approach to Cuba, but the unrest has thrust the relationship into a spotlight.

Several US lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the administration’s sanctions.

For some Republicans it was not enough.

Senator Roger Wicker tweeted on Thursday he was “disappointed in the weak response from (Biden) and @StateDept as the Cuban people cry out for help.”

AFP

After Unprecedented Protests, What Next For Cuba?

People take part in a demonstration to support the government of the Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE / AFP
People take part in a demonstration to support the government of the Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

 

A week after unprecedented anti-government protests in communist Cuba, a superficial calm appears to have returned to the island.

But experts told AFP discontent will continue simmering unless people see a clear improvement to their economic conditions and political rights.

Analysts look at possible scenarios for the future.

– Clampdown? –
With cries of “we are hungry,” “down with the dictatorship,” and “freedom,” the July 11 protests erupted spontaneously in the town of San Antonio de los Banos before spreading like wildfire to some 40 other locations, including the capital Havana.

The protests lasted little over a day, resulting in one death, dozens of injured and more than 100 arrests.

Cuban political scientist Rafael Hernandez foresees that the communist authorities, used to controlling all aspects of life in Cuba, will now seek to identify and keep a close eye on political opponents.

“I would expect that they will keep them under strict surveillance and should they make a new call to action, arrest them,” he said.

Rafael Rojas, a Cuban historian living in Mexico, said there would be a “process of neutralization” of those behind the protests.

“An operation has been launched to identify possible leaders.”

This may not be enough to avoid “a new social explosion, but perhaps not of the dimensions we saw,” said Rojas, adding any future outbursts are likely to be “more localized.”

– Economic reform? –
The protests were largely driven by a population fed up with food and medicine shortages amid a spike in Cuba’s coronavirus epidemic and the effects of its worst economic crisis in 30 years.

Three days after the demonstrations, President Miguel Diaz-Canel announced measures seeking to calm the mood, granting permission for people to bring food and medicine into the country without paying import duties.

Hernandez said the government would likely take further emergency measures to soften the blow of the economic crisis.

But it is the economy itself that needs boosting, particularly by loosening the grip on private enterprise so as to bolster growth and employment.

Earlier this year, the government expanded the number of activities in which private entrepreneurs are allowed to operate, and gave the provisional green light for small and medium enterprises, though limited to some sectors.

The government is historically the biggest employer in Cuba.

Havana was employing “a tactic of slowly loosening up to release pressure,” said Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo, an economist at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.

But “this is a failed tactic because it does not strategically solve the country’s problems,” he added.

– Political freedoms? –
The Cuban government has similarly made nods to greater political freedoms.

Yet, after a few hundred artists and intellectuals held a rare free speech protest outside the culture ministry in Havana, many saw themselves relegated to their homes by police, and their communications cut.

A new Cuban constitution approved in 2019 recognizes the rights to free expression, public protest and membership of civil associations, but without obvious ways for people to assert them.

Undertaking reforms “of civil rights seems to me will be welcomed as much outside of Cuba as in it,” said Rojas.

– Better US ties? –
One of the key contributors to Cuba’s dramatic economic collapse is the toughening of US sanctions during the administration of Donald Trump after years of appeasement and relaxation of the blockade under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Cuba has been under US sanctions since 1962 and had been hoping for a relaxation under Joe Biden, which has not come.

While Biden had promised on the campaign trail to bring back some of Obama’s policies and to seek a normalization of ties, his administration has yet to reverse Trump’s last-minute redesignation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.

And a quest for a better relationship may have been hampered by Havana’s response to the biggest protests since the Cuban revolution of the 1950s that brought Fidel Castro to power — with the authorities arresting dozens. Many are still being held.

Last week, Biden said of the events: “Cuba is unfortunately a failed state, and (is) repressing their citizens.

“There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government.”

– Exodus? –
The last major protests in Cuba were in 1994. Those were also against economic hardship but were limited to the capital and quickly put down by police.

At the time, some 34,000 Cubans left the island for the United States within a month — with permission from Havana.

The migrants were welcomed in Florida in 1994, but this time, the United States has said it would not accept a repeat.

De Miranda, the economist, said the coronavirus pandemic makes mass migration unlikely anyway, and the Cuban government was unlikely to allow a mass exit of its citizens this time round for fear of further irking Washington.

Cuban Government Blames Twitter For Unrest

Women use their phones in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. – Cuban authorities restored internet access on Wednesday following three days of interruptions after unprecedented protests erupted over the weekend. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

 

 

Unprecedented anti-government protests broke out in Cuba on July 11, which the single-party state leadership blames on a Twitter campaign orchestrated by the United States.

But experts say that view is at best an exaggeration.

“I have irrefutable proof that the majority of those that took part in this (internet) campaign were in the United States and used automated systems to make content go viral, without being penalized by Twitter,” Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Tuesday.

Rodriguez had already denied that the island nation experienced a “social explosion” when thousands of people took to the streets chanting “Freedom!” and “Down with the dictatorship!”

The minister called it a “communication and information war against Cuba.”

So who is to blame? Authorities point to the hashtag #SOSCuba, launched in early July to highlight Cuba’s healthcare crisis, the spike in Covid-19 cases, and to plead for foreign humanitarian aid.

Spanish social media expert Julian Macias Tovar, who was invited to speak on Cuban state television on Tuesday, says there is something strange in the figures around the hashtag.

“Between July 5, when the #SOSCuba hashtag was first used, and the eighth, there were just 5,000 tweets,” Macias Tovar told AFP.

It then exploded exponentially, he said, with 100,000 tweets on July 9, 500,00 on the 10th, 1.5 million the next day and two million on the 12th.

 

A young man uses his phone in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. – Cuban authorities restored internet access on Wednesday following three days of interruptions after unprecedented protests erupted over the weekend, AFP journalists said.
 (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

 

– Attack on the left –
The accounts tweeting with the #SOSCuba hashtag “came from many different places, and I believe there’s an international network of accounts linked ideologically,” said Macias Tovar.

They are the same accounts that attacked Mexico’s leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez and the leftist governments of Argentina and Spain, he said.

This is a case of fake accounts or automated accounts programmed to produce a large number of tweets, Macias Tovar said.

Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at the IT firm Kentik, is more skeptical.

“Someone sends a tweet in the United States that puts people on the streets in Cuba? I find it hard to believe,” he said.

“I don’t know if one could sit and try to create a Twitter campaign that holds such sway over the average Cuban that out of the air they convince them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise have done.”

While he acknowledged there were automated tweets, it is “probably true also of the government themselves” given the similarity between tweets from its supporters.

On top of that, the government holds the ultimate weapon: it can cut off internet access, as it did between midday Sunday and Wednesday morning.

Once access was restored, social media sites remained offline for another 24 hours.

 

Women use their phones in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

 

– ‘War against Cuba’ –
The government has not confirmed it cut off internet access, although Rodriguez said Cuba had “a right to self-defense.”

But on Tuesday night a presenter on state TV let slip the truth.

“I understand as a journalist … the step taken to cut social media because that is where the war against Cuba is being waged,” said presenter Arleen Rodriguez Derivet.

According to Cuban political scientist Harold Cardenas, “it would be a simplification to say it’s a US campaign because there are obviously many other reasons behind the protests.”

 

Naima Pineda gestures as she protests to show support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, in Miami, on July 14, 2021. – One person has died and more than 100 were arrested, including independent journalists and opposition activists, since the anti-government protests broke out in the communist-ruled island over the worst economic crisis in decades. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)

 

For example, he said, “I know communists that were detained the other day for taking part in protests.

“That’s not to say that the United States has no responsibility in the unrest” through its sanctions that “intentionally asphyxiate the Cuban people.”

It is true that social media has been “used to create parallel realities,” since there has been an avalanche of fake news and doctored images shared in Cuba over recent days.

“There has been an effort from abroad to create uncertainty in the country,” said Cardenas.

 

A woman uses her phone in a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021.  (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

 

But the government is “attributing an exaggerated importance to Twitter,” and people are genuinely “fed up and economically exhausted.”

Macias Tovar agrees with Cardenas. “Beyond this being a campaign orchestrated” from abroad, he said, “there are people who are mobilizing, people who are demonstrating against the government, people who have petitions — what the Cuban government must do is respect the right to protest.”

 

 

 

Cuba Restores Internet Access After Protests, But Not Social Media

People walk along a street of Havana, on July 14, 2021. – One person has died in the anti-government protests across Cuba, according to officials, with activists saying at least 100 people have been arrested and scores remain in detention as demonstrations overseas in solidarity continued. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

 

 

 

Cuban authorities restored internet access on Wednesday following three days of interruptions after unprecedented protests erupted over the weekend, AFP journalists said.

Access to social media and messaging apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter remained blocked on 3G and 4G, however.

Social media is the only way Cubans can access independent media, while messaging apps are their main means of communicating amongst themselves.

One person has died and more than 100 were arrested, including independent journalists and opposition activists, since the anti-government protests broke out in the communist-ruled island over the worst economic crisis in decades.

Web monitoring group NetBlocks reported disruptions from Monday in Cuba on major social media and communications platforms.

Cuba was quick to blame a half-century of US economic pressure for the crisis, but the downturn also comes amid strict measures against Covid-19 and an uptick in cases.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on Tuesday said the United States had incited social unrest through a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SOSCuba.

 

Demonstrators hold placards during a rally held in solidarity with anti-government protests in Cuba, in Times Square, New York on July 13, 2021. – One person died and more than 100 others, including independent journalists and dissidents, have been arrested after unprecedented anti-government protests in Cuba, with some remaining in custody on Tuesday, observers and activists said. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

“It’s true that we don’t have mobile internet, but we’re also lacking medicines,” Rodriguez said.

“I have to tell you, Cuba will not renounce its right to self-defense.”

The US on Tuesday urged Cuba to end the internet restrictions and demonstrate “respect for the voice of the people by opening all means of communication, both online and offline.”

Streets in the capital Havana were calm on Wednesday, but there was a visibly larger security presence, particularly around the parliament building, where protesters shouting “Down with the dictatorship,” “Freedom” and “We’re hungry” gathered on Sunday.

New calls went out on social media on Tuesday for a protest outside the parliament building, which was surrounded by police vehicles.

NetBlocks said some Cubans have been able to get around the internet restrictions by using virtual private networks, or VPNs.

Rare Anti-Government Protests Erupt In Cuba

People take part in a demonstration to support the government of the Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE / AFP
People take part in a demonstration to support the government of the Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

Thousands of Cubans took part in rare protests Sunday against the communist government, chanting, “Down with the dictatorship,” as President Miguel Diaz-Canel called on his supporters to confront the demonstrators.

The anti-government rallies started spontaneously in several cities as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity and food.

Several hundred protesters marched through the capital Havana chanting, “We want liberty,” with a heavy military and police presence deployed after demonstrators massed outside the Capitol building.

Police used tear gas to disperse crowds, and at least ten people were arrested, while officers used plastic pipes to beat protesters, AFP journalists witnessed.

Several thousand protesters — mainly young people — also took to the streets of San Antonio de los Banos, a town 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Havana.

Security forces arrived soon after the protests began, and Diaz-Canel later visited the town himself surrounded by party activists as residents heckled him, according to videos posted online.

The president delivered a combative television address, saying: “The order to fight has been given — into the street, revolutionaries!”

“We call on all revolutionaries of the country, all communists, to go out in the streets where these provocations occur… and to face them in a decisive, firm and courageous way.”

Government supporters held some counter-demonstrations in Havana.

Social media showed several anti-government protests around the country, and mobile internet — only introduced in Cuba since 2018 — was largely cut off on Sunday afternoon.

The United States reacted swiftly to the day’s events.

“The US supports freedom of expression and assembly across Cuba, and would strongly condemn any violence or targeting of peaceful protesters who are exercising their universal rights,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Twitter.

Boiling public anger

One local in San Antonio de los Banos, on condition of anonymity, told AFP that she participated in the demonstration as she was exasperated by “the situation with electricity and food.”

Public anger has been driven by long food lines, worsening power shortages for several hours a day and a critical shortage of medicines since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, with Cuba under US sanctions.

Cuba is experiencing its toughest phase yet of the coronavirus epidemic, and on Sunday reported a new daily record of infections and deaths.

“The energy situation seems to have produced some reaction,” Diaz-Canel told reporters in San Antonio de los Banos, blaming US sanctions imposed by Donald Trump and left unchanged by President Joe Biden.

He accused “a Cuban-American mafia” of whipping up the protests on social media.

“People have come to express their dissatisfaction with the situation they are living in,” he acknowledged.

Diaz-Canel has been president since 2018, succeeding Raul Castro, who served as leader after his brother Fidel Castro.

The only authorized gatherings in Cuba are normally Communist Party events.

The country of 11.2 million people was left relatively unscathed in the first months of the Covid outbreak but has seen a recent hike in infections, with a new record of 6,923 daily cases reported Sunday and 47 deaths for a total of 1,537.

“These are alarming numbers which are increasing daily,” said Francisco Duran, head of epidemiology in the health ministry.

Under hashtags such as #SOSCuba, calls for assistance have multiplied on social media, with citizens and music stars alike urging the government to make it possible for much-needed foreign donations to enter the country.

An opposition group called Saturday for the creation of a “humanitarian corridor,” an initiative the government rejected by saying Cuba was not a conflict zone.

Ernesto Soberon, a foreign affairs official, denounced a “campaign” he said sought to “portray an image of total chaos in the country which does not correspond to the situation.”

 

AFP

Two Dead, 10 Missing As Cuban Migrant Vessel Sinks Off Florida

In this handout image courtesy of the US Coast Guard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute small boat crew rescues 8 people from the water approximately 18 miles southwest of Key West, Florida, May 27,2021.
In this handout image courtesy of the US Coast Guard the Coast Guard Cutter Resolute small boat crew rescues 8 people from the water approximately 18 miles southwest of Key West, Florida, May 27,2021.

 

 

The US Coast Guard was searching Friday for 10 people missing off Florida after a migrant vessel with 20 Cubans capsized.

Authorities reported late Thursday they had recovered two bodies near the Florida Keys and pulled eight people alive from the ocean.

The Coast Guard said on Twitter that “multiple air & surface assets” searched through the night would continue all day.

A Coast Guard crew was on a routine patrol Thursday when it spotted people in the water.

The survivors said they left Cuba’s Puerto de Mariel on Sunday and capsized at some point on Wednesday night.

The Coast Guard did not describe the vessel that the group came on, though it is common for Cubans trying to reach the United States by sea to take crude boats not suitable for navigating the Straits of Florida.

Cuba’s deepening economic crisis has sparked an increase in the number of people seeking to escape the island.

In the last eight months, the Coast Guard has intercepted 298 Cubans, compared with 49 individuals from October 2019 to September 2020.

US Adds Cuba To Blacklist On Counterterrorism

A man wearing a face mask walks near a sign depicting Cuban late leader Fidel Castro and reading “Revolution is to change everything that needs to be changed”, in Havana on May 13, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic.  YAMIL LAGE / AFP
A man wearing a face mask walks near a sign depicting Cuban late leader Fidel Castro and reading “Revolution is to change everything that needs to be changed”, in Havana on May 13, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

The United States said Wednesday it had added Cuba to a blacklist of countries that do not fully cooperate on counterterrorism, denouncing the presence of Colombian leftist guerrillas.

Cuba joined four US adversaries — Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela — in failing to be certified for 2019 under a US counterterrorism law that affects defense exports.

It was the first time that Cuba was not certified since 2015. The State Department pointed to the presence of negotiators from Colombia’s ELN rebels, who traveled to Havana in 2017 to negotiate with the Bogota government but have not returned.

“Cuba’s refusal to productively engage with the Colombian government demonstrates that it is not cooperating with US work to support Colombia’s efforts to secure a just and lasting peace, security and opportunity for its people,” the State Department said.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, a conservative ally of the United States, broke off talks with the ELN after a January car bomb attack on a Bogota police academy killed 21 recruits.

The militants have been demanding, unsuccessfully, that Colombia grant safe passage for its negotiators to return from Cuba.

The State Department move will have little practical effect on Cuba, which does not import weapons from the United States, its arch-rival.

But the step is the latest by President Donald Trump’s administration to increase pressure on Cuba and move away from the reconciliation efforts under his predecessor Barack Obama.

The ELN is said to operate in about 10 percent of Colombia but is a smaller player than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which reached a landmark peace agreement with the government in 2016.

 

AFP

COVID-19: Cuba To Quarantine Tourists, Close Borders

Stranded passengers line up looking for a flight to return to their countries, at Havana’s Jose Marti airport, on March 23, 2020. – As of Tuesday, March 24, no flights with tourists will be allowed into the country as a preventive measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP.

 

Cuba will quarantine foreign tourists from Tuesday when it seals its borders to guard against the spread of the new coronavirus, the prime minister said Monday, in a move cutting one of the communist country’s few revenue sources.

“All tourists still in hotels will be placed in quarantine… They cannot leave the hotel” until they find a flight home, Manuel Marrero said on state TV, adding that there were 32,500 holidaymakers from overseas on the Caribbean island on Monday.

Some of them rushed to the airport in Havana Monday, anxious about their chances of finding a flight — many are already full and carriers have started canceling routes.

Economically crippled by US sanctions, Cuba is largely dependent on its tourism revenue.

Until now, Cuba had bucked the regional trend of closing its borders to foreigners.

READ ALSO: Over 200,000 Coronavirus Cases Declared In Europe

That generated heavy criticism from a worried population where 20 percent are over 60 and there are often cuts in the water supply and a lack of soap.

Regularly washing hands has been one of the main pieces of advice that health authorities have given to help people avoid contracting the virus.

But now only citizens and foreign residents will be allowed to enter the country, which has so far counted 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Car rentals and tour excursions have also been canceled.

“Next week no tourists” will enter the country, said Marrero, adding that almost all hotels on the island would close.

Of the 32,500 tourists already on the island, 9,400 are staying in homestays. According to the government, they will be moved to state-run hotels.

Authorities on Monday also announced one-month-long school closures, an unprecedented move not seen since the 1959 revolution made education and health two of the country’s main pillars.

And Cubans themselves may not leave the island without authorization, except for their own health, the prime minister said.

A 61-year-old Italian tourist has been Cuba’s only coronavirus death so far, and all of the country’s other cases have been among foreigners or those who have had close contact with known cases.

Authorities have assured Cubans the virus is so far not circulating locally.

AFP

I’m Not Afraid Of Prison, Says Zuma After Medical Trip

In this file photo taken on July 27, 2018 former South African president Jacob Zuma stands in the dock of the High Court of Pietermaritzburg during his hearing over 16 corruption charges. Former South African president Jacob Zuma must pay back state funds and cover his own costs, a court ruled on December 13, 2018, leaving him facing massive legal bills as he fights graft charges.
Phill MAGAKOE / POOL / AFP

 

South Africa’s graft-accused former president Jacob Zuma returned home on Saturday after a month-long trip to Cuba for medical treatment and declared he was not afraid of prison.

Zuma, 77, was slapped with an arrest warrant earlier this month after his lawyers claimed he was too ill to travel back to South Africa for a pre-trial hearing on corruption charges.

A high court issued the warrant after it questioned the authenticity of his sick note, but said it would not be executed until the case is set to resume on May 6.

A crowd of people gathered at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo international airport to welcome Zuma, the former ANC leader who ruled South Africa from 2009 to 2018.

“I am not afraid of prison,” Zuma told his supporters in Zulu before being ushered out of the arrivals hall.

READ ALSO: S.Sudan Rebel Leader Machar Sworn In As Vice President

He raised his thumbs and grinned from behind a pair of dark glasses as a singing crowd gathered around him.

Zuma is alleged to have taken bribes of four million rand (about $267,000) related to a $3.4 billion arms deal in 1999 when he was deputy president.

In all, he faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering related to the purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats, and military equipment.

The arrest warrant was just the latest twist in a case that has seen many legal turns over the past decade and a half.

Critics have dubbed Zuma the “Teflon president” for his reputed ability to evade judicial reckoning.

He has also been accused of orchestrating the systematic plunder of government coffers during his rule in a scandal known as “state capture”.

“(Zuma) has always respected the courts,” supporter Carl Niehaus told reporters before the ex-president’s arrivals.

“There is no need to vilify him and try and turn him into a fugitive of justice.”

Little has been disclosed about the current state of Zuma’s health or the type of treatment he has been receiving.

He was forced to step down in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) after a nine-year reign marked by corruption allegations and dwindling popularity.

AFP

UN Assembly Condemns US Embargo On Cuba

 

The UN General Assembly condemned the nearly 60-year-old US embargo on Cuba Thursday for the 28th year in a row, calling for an end to it by a vote of 187 to three.

Only Israel and Brazil voted with the US against the resolution. Two other US allies — Ukraine and Colombia — abstained.

First imposed on October 19, 1960, in response to Havana’s nationalization of US-owned oil refineries, and extended in 1962, the embargo is an enduring legacy of the Cold War hostilities between the two countries.

It was denounced as “anachronistic” and “inhumane” during two days of debate by the General Assembly.

In 2016, the US abstained for the first time in the annual UN vote amid a historic US rapprochement with Cuba under former President Barack Obama.

But diplomatic relations between the two countries have turned cold since Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez charged there has been “an escalation in aggression against Cuba” under Trump, whose government, he said, “does not hide its intention to economically asphyxiate Cuba and increase the damage, shortages, and suffering of its people.”

Havana claims the embargo has caused $138 billion in damage to the island’s economy, in today’s dollars.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, blamed the Cuban regime, accusing it of abuses against its own people, and of sowing regional instability.

Brazil, now led by the ultra-conservative Jair Bolsonaro, voted for the first time with the United States. Last year, only Israel joined the US in voting against the resolution.

With Queues And Blackouts, Cubans Suffer Fuel Crisis

Car drivers line up to get their tanks filled at a gas station in Havana, on September 19, 2019. Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel blamed the United States for Cuba’s fuel shortage. In his address, he said the “low availability of diesel” will affect transport, distribution and electricity generation. The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on various companies for transporting Venezuelan petroleum to Cuba. PHOTO: YAMIL LAGE / AFP

 

Ernesto Mirabal gave up a night’s sleep for a few gallons of gas at a Havana service station, where lining up for five hours has become the norm during a severe fuel shortage on the Communist-run island.

Since President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s shock announcement on September 11 that the country was facing the fuel shortfall, widespread uncertainty and a degree of panic have gripped the nation.

Mirabal, a taxi driver, had no choice but to while away his sleeping hours queuing for gas.

“I got here a little after 11 o’clock and was able to put gas in the car at four in the morning,” said Mirabal, 48. “I had to do it because I had a customer to pick up at 7 o’clock.”

“I’ve got enough fuel for today and tomorrow now. But the day after tomorrow I have to start all over again.”

– Drastic measures –

Images of long lines of people waiting endless hours outside service stations have flooded Cubans’ Twitter and Facebook timelines over the past week.

WhatsApp groups have sprung up around the burning question of the day: “Where can I get fuel?”

In public companies and offices, schedules have been cut back, air conditioners have hummed to a halt and electricity blackouts imposed for a few hours a day. Some companies have sent their workers home.

Garbage accumulates in the streets as collections are cut back, a blow to the health ministry’s battle against resurgent dengue fever, a deadly strain of which is worrying authorities.

The drastic measures in place for the past week remind many of the Special Period, the dark days of extreme shortages in the 1990s which followed the collapse of Cuba’s main sponsor, the Soviet Union.

Some measures indeed mirror those of 25 years ago as the nation tries to cope.

With public transport reduced to bare minimum service, traffic police flag down drivers of state-owned vehicles to demand they take on passengers.

But the starkest example of Cuba’s fuel crisis can be seen in the sugar cane plantations, where oxen are being brought in to replace the machines that power the country’s biggest export.

– Panic –

“People think the fuel will run out and so everyone is trying to accumulate as much as possible,” said Omar Everleny, an economist.

“They believe things will get even more complicated, despite what the authorities say.”

Diaz-Canel promised a return to “relative normality” by October.

Despite an official prohibition, many motorists fill up jerrycans at service stations, in addition to their cars.

The government is keeping up a barrage of reassuring messages, with the president calling on citizens to “think like a country” and stand together at this time of need.

Diaz-Canel has blamed the shortages on increasingly aggressive US sanctions against Cuba and its oil-source ally Venezuela.

“Imperialism is not going to ruin our lives or take our sleep away,” the president tweeted on Thursday as the crisis entered its second week.

“We are facing up to this situation, we are implementing systematic economy measures, we are growing and we will win.”

Like many others, however, Everleny, the economist, doesn’t buy the government line.

“If the country is paralyzed, where will the growth come from?” He asked, citing a decline in tourist arrivals from Europe. Cruise ships that brought thousands of American visitors every week have been banned since June, as part of the US sanctions.

The fuel shortage is indicative of the country’s currency crisis.

Cuba has no alternative to oil from Venezuela which is paid for in part by sending Cuban doctors to Caracas to shore up a collapsing medical system.

And as for the return to normal promised by Diaz-Canel, Everleny warns: “Normal would mean a return to a period of weak growth and uncertainty.”

AFP

US Sanctions Venezuela Oil Vessels, Cuba Shippers

US President Donald Trump, with Vice President Mike Pence, speaks about the economy on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP

 

US Vice President Mike Pence announced sanctions Friday on 34 vessels of Venezuela’s state oil company and two companies that ship crude to Cuba as Washington pushes to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people,” Pence said in a speech at Rice University in Houston.

“Those looking on should know this: All options are on the table. And Nicolas Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America,” he said.

“The United States will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy,” he said.

READ ALSO: American David Malpass Named World Bank President

The action is the latest by the United States as it tries to squeeze revenue from the cash-strapped leftist government, which has nonetheless held onto power and enjoys backing from China and Russia.

The Treasury Department said it was designating 34 vessels of state oil company PDVSA as blocked property, meaning that the United States will block all transactions with them.

It also targeted a tanker that ships crude oil from Venezuela to its key ally Cuba, the Despina Andrianna, as well as two shipping companies linked to the vessel — one based in Greece and the other in Liberia.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement accused Cuba — a bugbear of the United States for decades — of propping up Maduro.

“The United States remains committed to a transition to democracy in Venezuela and to holding the Cuban regime accountable for its direct involvement in Venezuela’s demise,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

The United States itself was a key market for Venezuelan oil through Citgo, a subsidiary of PDVSA, but Washington has forced the operator to place earnings in a blocked account.

AFP